Nicholas Stern (of the Report) argues that climate agreement should not be legally binding

We used the last session of IS450 as a chance to hold a mock United Nations climate conference simulation. The participants brought forward many intriguing and instructive topics, and I applaud them for putting in the time and energy to make the simulation as successful as I, at least, judged it to be. At some point during the proceedings, there was majority agreement (finally!) on one small element of the overall framework resolution. Interestingly, though, immediately upon the successful passing of that small piece of the framework a couple of delegates put forward a motion to make the obligations legally binding. A heated discussion ensued debating the merits and disadvantages of such an approach.

In the current round of UNFCCC climate negotiations, behind held in Lima, Peru, Nicholas Stern (author of the well-known Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change) has argued against making international climate treaty obligations legally binding. What is Lord Stern’s rationale for this?

“Some may fear that commitments that are not internationally legally-binding may lack credibility,” he said.

“That, in my view, is a serious mistake. The sanctions available under the Kyoto Protocol, for example, were notionally legally-binding but were simply not credible and failed to guarantee domestic implementation of commitments.”

In Lima, negotiators are trying to hammer out the format that mitigation efforts should take. By the end of March next year countries have to declare their hands, but they have yet to formalize what will be included in these commitments and what will not.

Lord Stern believes that grounding the process in the laws and promises that countries undertake by themselves is a better model for a deal than a top-down process like Kyoto.

“It will be enforceable and deliverable through the arrangements and laws in the countries themselves.

“That way you will get stronger ambition as countries won’t be tempted to be hesitant about some type of international sanction.”

What do you think about Lord Stern argument? Would you support voluntary obligations over mandatory ones?

Here is an interview with Lord Stern from earlier this week in Lima, wherein he speaks on the link between economic growth, development, and better climate responsibility?

 

Vancouver Archipelago–what will happen when Greenland and Antartic Ice Sheets melt

This blog is back from an end-of-semester-induced slumber with some important posts. Here is post, the first:

Here’s an intriguing map, posted on the spatialities.com web site.  It shows what Vancouver would look like with an expected 80-meter sea-level rise, which is what the United States Geological Survey predicts would happen were the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets to melt completely (remember that these are land-based ice sheets).

Most of the current global land ice mass is located in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets (table 1). Complete melting of these ice sheets could lead to a sea-level rise of about 80 meters, whereas melting of all other glaciers could lead to a sea-level rise of only one-half meter.

Don’t go and sell your Fairview condo just yet, however, as this scenario is not projected to complete for between 1,000 and 10,000 years. Of course, this is a process that develops incrementally (though not linearly) over time and the city would be deeply affected adversely with only a fraction of that projected rise in sea levels.

For those who may doubt that the world’s glaciers are melting, here is video of the largest glacier ‘calving’ event ever caught on film. The end of the clip demonstrates the extent of change in the rate of melting and glacial retreat over the last century. Just watch!

Domestic Politics and Climate Change

Last week we discussed the role of domestic politics–institutions, electoral systems, partisanship, etc.,–on national political leaders’ attitudes towards and policies on climate change. We noted that the Canadian federal governments stance toward mitigation and adaptation changed dramatically upon the ascension of the Conservatives to power in 2006 (a minority government). The majority government that Harper was able to win in 2011 signalled the death knell for Canada’s involvement in the Kyoto process as Harper’s government reneged on Canada’s obligations quickly thereafter.

The United States, meanwhile, enters the final week of the biennial “midterm elections”, with most candidates (and the public) focused on issues other than climate change. When climate change is mentioned, however, the candidates responses are not reassuring. Have a look at this video for an impressive compilation of candidates’ responses to whether they believe in the existence of anthropogenic climate change. Incidentally, for a comprehensive debunking of Representative Steve Pearce’s claim that 31,000 scientists signed a petition claiming that there was no global warming, click here.

New Pentagon Report sees Climate Change as US National Security Threat

So, if you’re not convinced by the ethical perspectives on climate change, then maybe you’ll be convinced to take it seriously if you are told that it could make state less secure going forward. In a new report from the US Department of Defence (i.e., “The Pentagon”), climate change is seen as a “threat multiplier.” In the language of Homer-Dixon, this means that climate change is viewed not as an exogenous cause of conflict, but as a factor that could negatively influence hypothesized exogenous causes of both civil and inter-state conflict. This is how Bloomberg News responded to the release of the report:

Global warming will worsen many of the challenges the U.S. military already is grappling with, the department said in areport yesterday.

“We refer to climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today -– from infectious disease to terrorism,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in a blog post. “While scientists are converging toward consensus on future climate projections, uncertainty remains. But this cannot be an excuse for delaying action.”

Here is the report in its entirely. I am also providing a video excerpt of an MSNBC story on the release of the report, which has the added virtue of including an interview with the author of one of the readings that I think at least 2 of you read for Wednesday’s seminar! The author is Chris Parenti, who has written an interesting book called Climate of Chaos.

How to be an informed climate sceptic

We have spoken repeatedly about the difference between climate science scepticism and climate science denial. Scepticism is at the heart of the scientific enterprise; a sceptical approach to knowledge claims is consistent with the contingent, or provisional, nature of scientific knowledge.

Climate scientists are themselves sceptical about climate science in that they know that while they have learned a great deal about how our climate works, there is much that is either unknown or that can be known better. With that in mind, I provide for your enlightenment a skceptic’s guide to climate science published by the Berkeleyearth.org.  It’s interesting that the Professor of Physics Richard Muller, the founder and scientific director, is a self-admitted ‘converted sceptic’. Indeed, he once believed that the gaps in the scientific knowledge of climate change were so large that he doubted the very existence of global warming. In this op-ed in the New York Times, Muller writes:

Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

My total turnaround, in such a short time, is the result of careful and objective analysis by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which I founded with my daughter Elizabeth. Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.

These findings are stronger than those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that defines the scientific and diplomatic consensus on global warming.

Although there is strong scientific evidence of human-induced global warming, there are still many issues that are scientifically not settled. Read the following short, but instructive document to learn how to become an informed climate science sceptic. The alternative is to look as uninformed as this guy:

Bill McKibben was a major force behind the Climate March

Here’s an article profiling one of the leaders of the September 2014 Climate March. Bill McKibben is a journalist and environmental activist whose career spans more than three decades.

Bill McKibben wrote the first big book about global warming, a work he hoped would startle the world like a fire alarm. But the planet just kept on hurtling toward an overheated doom, he noticed. So twenty-five years later, he’s come up with a shriller, more literal strategy for reform: actual alarms.

McKibben is also the creator of the 350.org website, which is must reading for anybody interested in environmental news and activism. (The 350 stands for the levels of atmospheric CO2 gas (measured in parts-per-million (ppm)) aove which climate scientists believe puts the global climate in serious peril. Another good resource is McKibben’s personal website.

Finally, here’s an interview with Bill Moyers, in which McKibben urges US President Barack Obama (the leader of the world’s greatest historical emitter of GHGs) to “say no to big oil.”

Naomi Klein Interviewed about her new climate politics book

Naomi Klein, who has written extensively about global political issues was recently interviewed on Democracy Now about her new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate. This is one of those books whose content is easily identifiable from the title. In essence, Klein posits that capitalism, at least in its current form as championed by right-wing think tanks world-wide (but especially in the United States of America), is inherently at odds with protecting the climate. This is a sentiment articulated by some of you during our session earlier this week. There can’t simply be tinkering at the margins. The protection of the global environment requires a radical re-thinking of the relationships amongst, civil society, the market, and the state. [Incidentally, Klein’s book promotion tour will hit Vancouver on October 26th (at UBC).]

Here’s part of the transcript from the interview, which you can view below:

NAOMI KLEIN…So the argument I’m making is really quite a hopeful one. I think if we do respond to climate change with the decisiveness that the scientist[s] are telling us we do, if we respond in line with science, we have a chance to remake our economy, the global economy, for the better…

AMY GOODMANNaomi Klein, in your book, This Changes Everything, you… talk about a number of these [right-wing think tanks] groups. You open with them in a chapter called “The Right is Right.”

NAOMI KLEIN: OK, well, let’s be clear: They are not right about the science. They’re wrong about the science. But I think what the right understands, and it’s important to understand, that the climate change denier movement in the United States is entirely a product of the right-wing think tank infrastructure…The Heartland Institute, which people mostly only know in terms of the fact that it hosts these annual conferences of climate change skeptics or deniers, it’s important to know that the Heartland Institute is first and foremost a free market think tank. It’s not a scientific organization. It is—just like the other ones I listed, it exists to push the ideology, the familiar ideology, of deregulation, privatization, cuts to government spending, and sort of triumphant free market, you know, backed with enormous corporate funding, because that’s a very, very profitable ideology.

And when I interviewed the head of the Heartland Institute, Joe Bast, for this project, he was quite open that it wasn’t that he found a problem with the science first. He said, when he looked at the science and listened to what scientists were saying about how much we need to cut our emissions, he realized that climate change could be—if it were true, it would justify huge amounts of government regulation, which he politically opposes. And so, he said, “So then we looked at the science, and we found these problems,” right? So the issue is, they understand that if the science is true, their whole ideological project falls apart, because, as I said, you can’t respond to a crisis this big, that involves transforming the foundation of our economy—our economy was built on fossil fuels, it is still fueled by fossil fuels. The idea in this—we hear this from a lot of liberal environmental groups, that we can change completely painlessly—just change your light bulbs, or just a gentle market mechanism, tax and relax, no problem. This is what they understand well, that in fact it requires transformative change. That change is abhorrent to them…

…So when I say “the right is right,” I think that they have a better grasp on the political implications of the science, of what it means to how we need to change our economy and what the role of the public sphere is and the role of collective action is, better than some of those sort of big, slick, centrist green groups that are constantly trying to sell climate action as something entirely reconcilable with a booming capitalist economy. And we’re always hearing about green growth and how it’s great for business. You know, yeah, you can—there will be markets in green energy and so on, but other businesses are going to have to contract in ways that requires that strong intervention.

Domestic Emissions Targets for Greenhouse Gases and China

This week, we begin to address the politics of climate change. In the chapter from the Stevenson text, the author addresses the rise of two international norms that are related to mitigating the impact of global warming: 1) common but differentiated responsibilities (CBRD) and, 2) mitigation in the form of domestic emissions’ targets.

Stevenson argues that international negotiations regarding mitigation have slowly transitioned from a focus on domestic to global emissions’ targets. Correspondingly, the institutional framework for implementing these goals has moved from regulatory (domestic governments) to market-oriented.  China and the United States have been the main promoters (and would also be the main beneficiaries of ) the market-oriented approach to GHG mitigation. We’ll discuss why during this week’s seminar, but in short, high level emitters can use carbon trading schemes to offload their emissions to low-emitting countries, resulting in no drop in emissions of GHGs globally.

In an interesting story on China’s setting up of a domestic carbon market, which is set to begin trading in 2016, we find something interesting. First, here’s a description of the proposed Chines carbon market:

China plans to roll out its national market for carbon permit trading in 2016, an official said Sunday, adding that the government is close to finalising rules for what will be the world’s biggest emissions trading scheme.

The world’s biggest-emitting nation, accounting for nearly 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, plans to use the market to slow its rapid growth in climate-changing emissions.

What caught my eye, however, was the next line:

China has pledged to reduce the amount of carbon it emits per unit of GDP to 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

In an informal (convenience sample) survey of some friends and acquaintances, it is obvious that the impression (almost unanimously shared) of the reader was that China would be cutting its GHG emissions dramatically by 2020. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

The key words in the excerpt quoted above are “per unit of GDP.” Because China’s GDP is expected to at least double by 2020 (based on the base year 2005), China could conceivably meet their target of a 40-45-per cent cut in emissions per unit of GDP even with as much as a doubling of actual (absolute) GHG emissions!

There’s always Vancouver–if you can not make it to Climate March in NYC

Here is something of an update to a previous post on the planned climate march of 21 September in NYC, meant to coincide with the UN Climate Summit. If you are either unable or unwilling to go to New York, but also wanted to take part in this civil society manifestation, there is a local march planned for that day. Here is more information (note: this should not be meant as an endorsement/non-endorsement of the event or the organizers):

We are at the crossroads of the future. Vancouver stands as either the terminus or the gateway of a potential flood of oil, coal and LNG headed out to contribute substantial, irreparable damage to the world’s earth, air and water. We are uniquely situated to act in defense of our planet by helping to stem that flood. Now is the historic time! We have waited all our lives for this moment, to discover that we are the ones we have been waiting for.

Facebook page
We are staging an event in Vancouver to mark our solidarity with the largest environmental protest in history, at the UN Climate Conference in New York on September 21st. This event page is to keep everybody informed as we get closer to the date. If you have ideas and want to help plan, there is also a Facebook group. We also need volunteers! If you’d like to help, we need drivers, sign and banner makers, posterers, tent assemblers, crowd marshals … contact aalarigakis@shaw.ca.

Here is the trailer for a movie, Disruption, that has been produced to coincide with the Climate March.

 

Climate March on NYC Planned for September 21

What organizers are calling the “largest climate march in history” is set to descend upon New York City in less than two weeks’ time (September 21). The event is meant to coincide with a key UN Climate Summit, which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has organized to not only give global leaders in business, politics, and civil society a chance to discuss this important topic, but also to build momentum in advance of the crucial 2015 Paris 21st COP to the UNFCCC. (Don’t worry, by the end of the semester you’ll know exactly what these acronyms mean.) Amongst the projected crowd of tens-of-thousands of protesters will be the current leader (and Member of Parliament) of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May. “Taking it to the streets” in the hopes of hastening socio-political change is something with which May agrees, if her Twitter account is any indication:

Here is part of the Green Party of Canada press release announcing the climate march and encouraging other Canadians to join May in New York City:

On September 21, tens of thousands of concerned citizens from around the world will gather in New York City for the People’s Climate March. They will be marching to show the world leaders assembled there for the 2014 UN Climate Summit that our planet cannot wait for more negotiations – we need climate action now.

At the Climate Summit, Canada will stand out as having the worst climate policy record in the industrialized world.

From their dismantling of environmental regulations to their rush to expand Canada’s pipeline capacity, no government on earth has worked harder than the Harper Conservatives to speed up catastrophic climate change.

Maybe someday we can get the Honourable Member for Saanich–Gulf Islands to tell us what she really thinks about the Harper government’s climate policies.

Is Canadian government climate policy really the industrialized world’s worst? Worse than the USA and/or China? Will you also be increasing your carbon footprint to join the march in New York City?